Be Big - Script to Screen

Isabelle Keith played Mrs. Hardy in BE BIG. She was Mrs. Laurel in PERFECT DAY. A decade older than Anita Garvin, she entered films in 1918 with Mack Sennett. There is no published interview with her, or article about her. Besides acting, she was a singer and sometimes worked under the name of Claudel Kay. During BE BIG she was married to a writer at Universal Pictures named Richard Weill, who may or may not have been related to Pierre Weill, credited for the "translation" on LES CAROTTIERS. Isabelle Keith was assiociated, in some capacity, with Alcoholics Anonymous for almost 50 years. She died in Northern California as Isabelle Fowler in 1979 at the age of 81.

 Anita Garvin married her beloved bandleader husband, Clifford "Red" Stanley in 1930. Over the Thanksgiving holiday that year she was back home in New York visiting her sister (who called Anita "Frankie" - her middle name was Francis). A telegram arrived from Stan Laurel, begging her to hurry home and "Be my wife" in the next Laurel & Hardy picture.

"I just adored Stan," Anita reminisced in 1981, "and he seemed so desperate to have me play his wife. I was trying to get out of films so I could live happily ever after as a married old lady but I couldn't resist Stan. I came back. I had to rush to get back in time.

"Stan rewarded me by just being so wonderful to work with. His mind was always going, thinking of the most clever things for all of us to do in front of the camera. He was so generous. Stan really was the only true genius I ever knew. His mind was an endless source of ideas that we all marvelled at. He was always on, always entertaining you, always trying to make people laugh.

"Babe didn't seem to be creative, or care much, except when the cameras were running. "We're going to do this? Or that?' he'd ask of Stan, and then he just performed whatever it was as no one else could. The cameras would turn, you'd see him come alive, and you'd wonder, 'How did he do that? Where did that come from?' Heavens!

"Babe was actually quiet and unassuming, even shy, except when the cameras turned. He was just sweet and gentle - a great big old teddy bear. Between scenes Stan would take over everything. Babe might go over to a corner of the stage, sit in his chair, maybe strum on his ukelele, sing or hum. He had a beautiful singing voice. He didn't seem to mind letting Stan be the brains.

"You had to be there to believe the way they got along, it was so beautiful. Their mutual respect was something to see. And in all the years I knew and worked with them, I never heard a dirty word. The were gentlemen. The films are marvelous, the fans can see the films, but knowing Stan and Babe as friends was a unique dimension at an entirely different level."

After BE BIG Anita Garvin more or less retired to raise her two kids. She made a few Hal Roach shorts with Charley Chase and Thelma Todd, but did not work again with Laurel & Hardy until SWISS MISS in 1938. Through the years Stan Laurel phoned her regularly for parts that went instead to Mae Busch. The actor and the actress remained close friends until the gentleman died in 1965. Their happy marriage in BE BIG will last as long as the film elements survive.

-- by Richard W. Bann --